Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cry baby

Something is bothering me.  Assumptions have been made that my child is manipulating me.  I disagree.  Let me explain.

It's no mystery that babies, toddlers, older children, and even adults cry and throw fits.  It is also no mystery that some of these toddlers, older children and adults are crying to manipulate their parents, boy/girlfriend, boss, police officer, etc.  But only the ones who have learned that crying changes the outcome of a situation will do this.  Others are just crying because, well, life sucks sometimes and humans cry.

Many parents think their children are crying to manipulate them, and in reality, some are.  But to think that infants are manipulative is outrageous in my opinion.  I cringe every time I hear someone telling a mother that their tiny baby is trying to manipulate them!  Manipulate them to do what!?  Feed them?  Comfort them in a time of stress?  They know nothing of the world other than their need for food, comfort, and a secure attachment/trust from their caregivers.  They are simply trying to meet their primal needs for survival and bond with their family!  For an infant there is NO difference between a want and a need.

Toddlers are another story.  Their brains are growing and developing at a rapid rate.  They are learning all about social interactions, emotions, and how they fit into their ever growing world.  Their brains are extremely immature, yet they have a strong desire to explore their world and establish autonomy.  Toddlers cry for a lot of reasons,  A LOT.  They cry when they are hurt, they cry when they are sad, they cry when the pancake that they themselves bit into has a bite taken out of it!  They also tend to cry when they don't get their way, when they are overstimulated or when their imagination is greater than their ability.  Again, the toddler is NOT trying to manipulate you!  They haven't read the book, they don't even know what manipulation is!

What they are trying to do is figure out how to act/react in in this big, overwhelming, and sometimes scary world of theirs.  They are also watching how you will react.  They are a l w a y s watching!  They are looking for you to set reasonable boundaries, to keep them safe, and to be there as a source of comfort when things get tough.  Toddler have huge and very real emotions.   Here is where the idea of manipulation can get tricky.  Toddler-hood is the time when you as a parent can either teach your toddler to manipulate you with tears, or you can teach them that tears do not change the outcome of the situation, but they are always allowed to cry and fully feel their emotions.

Teaching your child how not to manipulate with tears will look something like this.  Your two year old wants ice cream at 8:30 in the morning.  Okay fine, my two year old wants ice cream 8:30 in the morning. You tell them no and they proceed to throw a fit.  They are screaming and crying and possibly thrashing and kicking.  Remember, they are genuinely upset, not trying to manipulate you.  You offer empathy, "You are upset, you really wanted some ice cream.  But we can not have ice cream right now.  Would you like some oatmeal?"  They will probably scream, "NOOOO" as if their life depended on it and continue to cry.  Fine, still not trying to manipulate.  You will then let them feel their feelings without squelching them or becoming upset with them.   You will allow your toddler to cry and get out all of the upset they are feeling about not getting what they want.  And then, when they are done, you will be a safe place for a hug and a quick chat about what happened.  Then you and your toddler will move on to bigger and better crying when their oatmeal isn't the right color.  Did I mention toddlers cry a lot?

Now, if you do want to teach your toddler how to manipulate you with tears then you will give them the ice cream right when they start to cry, or even more effective, after then have been crying for a while.  You could also bribe them to stop crying with something else you know they really really like.

See how it works?  They initially cry because they are genuinely upset, not to manipulate.  But if you give in when tears fall, children learn very quickly to cry in order to get what they want and before you know it, yes, your child is manipulating you with tears.  This is not to say that once you set these boundaries your child will stop crying when they don't get what they want.  Trust me, they still will.   It's just that you will know that they aren't trying to change your mind, they already know that you won't.  But remember, that doesn't change the fact that they are upset and need to feel their feeling.   Parents, please allow your children to feel their feelings!  *Yes, all of them!

So what can potentially change things?  Words.  Calm, thoughtful words that can totally manipulate the shit out of you are not manipulation.  Okay, I know that words can also be a form of manipulation, but when both parties are calmly discussing a situation and potentially compromising and problem solving, this so called manipulation can be a good thing.

And yes, I am already dreading the day that my kid can outsmart me.  It's coming...

*I'm working on a post about the emotional needs of children and how incredibly important they are to meet.  This post is turning out to be very difficult to write.  It might be a while.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The human parrot

Recently, Caches' language has exploded.  He is speaking new words and phrases every single day, and loves to mock us!  It is really fun to see it click for him, and to hear his precious thoughts and ideas.

This evening on our family walk I shared with Ryan how earlier in the day Caches was copying everything I said like a little parrot.  We passed a car with two people sitting inside rolling a joint.  Yep, just sitting there, windows down for the world to see.  Ryan turned to me and said, "Just smoking some weed, huh?"  "Smokin weed." Repeated my parrot.

Ryan and I started to laugh as Polly repeated the phrase a few more times.  "We really need to watch our mouths now, Ryan." I said.  Still a bit skeptical, he whined about all the things we can no longer say.  "I guess we are officially in grandma mode, huh?"  "Grama mode!!"  Squawked the little bird.

Yeah, we are in that!

So I'm sure you will be as surprised as I was, when not even five minutes later we walked up to our house and Ryan took a look at his lawn and said, "my lawn is looking fucking fantastic."  Uhhh... Thankfully the parrot was bringing up the rear.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Dirt swept under the rug

We all have our little secrets.  The things we do when nobody is watching, things that don't otherwise fit with our personality.  You know, things that I probably shouldn't share on a public blog.

But I'm going to.

I am a tidy individual; a place for everything and everything in its, place.  But that doesn't apply to the junk drawer in the kitchen, my underwear drawer or Caches' kitchen supplies drawer.  Each one of these drawers is a complete and total disaster!

Caches' drawer doesn't really need any explanation.  It is full of his utensils, dishes and cups, he has access to it, and he is two.  I tried.  It is fucked. The end

My underwear drawer is pretty much exactly that, only I don't fold, or color coordinate, or use cute dividers, or even give a flying fig about that drawer.  I tried for years to fold my underwear, to separate the thongs from the grannies; to give that drawer some respect.  Now I crumple up all my underwear from the wash and shove it in.  The tongs are making fun of the grannies, the purples are canoodling with the pinks and I'm pretty sure my long lost, most comfortable nursing bra is tangled up in there but I haven't dared to dig.

And I don't even care.  Like I really don't.

The junk drawer in the kitchen is another story.  I organize it once every few months, usually when I can no longer physically close it, even while pinching my finger in it while trying to smash all the junk down as I close it inch by inch.  This drawer is my guilty pleasure, my dirty secret; it is my rebellious side.  This drawer is me flipping off all of the people who need flipping off!

When I come across a pen that Ryan has left out from work I think, put the pen away in the top drawer in the office with all of its pen friends.  But I shove it in the drawer.  When I use a screwdriver from Ryan's toolbox in the garage I think, I should go put this back where I found it.  But I shove it in the drawer.  When I find a random tool that I let Caches play with, a thumbtack left over from Christmas decorations, when I find a dried pinto bean, an almond, a candy wrapper, a plastic bread tie that would require minimal effort to put back on the bread.  All that shit goes in the drawer.

I have even put beer bottle caps and other assorted trash that I didn't feel like escorting to the bin five feet away, in the junk drawer.  I see it fill up, I get annoyed when I can't find the things that I actually want to find in there because of the mess, but I continue to add to the chaos.  Bit by bit, tiny act of rebellion after tiny act of rebellion, and you know what, a small part of me is liberated each time I do it.

I know that my house seems tidy.  I know that I myself am kind of boring at the moment.  I know that other people think my house is tidy. I know that other people think I am rather boring that the moment.  But when I open that junk drawer and see that glorious mess going against everything neat and tidy inside of me, I get in touch with my rock and roll, fuck the world side and it feels really good.  It reminds me that maybe I'm not so boring after all, I'm just taking a break.

P.S. You absolutely can NOT see this drawer if you are at my house, so don't ask.  Well, maybe if I'm in the right mood.  Go ahead and ask, but I make no guarantees.  Even Ryan cringes to open it, and we have legally binding papers and diamond rings between us.

P.S.S  I also eat peanut butter out of the jar.  With my finger!  Don't judge me!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

And then the light bulb clicked so hard that it burst above my head

I recently wrote about the ugly red monster, anger, and how it was affecting me on my parenting journey.  Inspired by how powerful, yet secondary an emotion anger is, I decided to dig deeper.  I encountered some articles justifying my anger, not helpful, and a few articles about other mothers and their feelings of anger, insightful, but still not quite what I was looking for.  About to give up,  I stumbled upon an article that has literally changed my life. 

It was an article about children's anger, mainly toddlers, and how they learn to cope with the powerful emotion.  It also touched on how we as parents can facilitate a healthy response to anger in our children.  It was interesting, but nothing that I hadn't heard before; and then I read it.  It was so simple, SO simple that I had to read it three times to make sure I was actually understanding.  Each time the little light bulb in my head got brighter and brighter until it burst with enlightenment.  "You are not responsible for your child's anger."  Holy shit! You mean it's not MY fault.!?  And, "It is not your responsibility to 'fix' your child's feelings, he must learn to do that for himself."

All this time I have been deeply, personally affected by Caches' intense emotions.  From birth, every cry was an emergency, every single emotional outburst needed to be fixed immediately, every unsettled moment held fault, mine.  Why is he crying?  How can I fix it?  What can I do?  What did I do to cause it?  How can I prevent it from happening again?   My god, I"ll do anything!!!  And now this woman was giving me permission to do nothing!?  Wha?

Well, not exactly.

What she was giving me permission to do, is to let go of ownership of HIS emotions.   They are his, not mine, and he can deal with them how he sees fit.  He is a complete person in and of himself, I am not, nor will I ever be in control of his feelings!  It is my job to validate him and his feelings, and to support him as he figures out for himself how to cope with, heal and "fix" his own problems, but it is not my cross to bare.

You guys have no idea how freeing this has been for me.  I cried, no I sobbed, as all of the pieces came together and I finally accepted for the first time in two years that it is not my fault.  And you know what, when you choose to let go of responsibility for everyone else's emotions, you feel about 473289 pounds lighter.  You feel liberated, calm, and centered. 

And it doesn't only apply to Cache.  I am not responsible for Ryan's emotions, or my mother's, or my dog's!  I am not even responsible for the hurt teenager on a television show!!  I know, crazy, right?  But I am telling you this in all honesty, a made up television show character, and his deeply hurt feelings has the ability to ruin my day, or I should say, had.  

Now, you may be the kind of person who figured this shit out years ago!  Good for you.  Or you may be the kind of person who never even had this problem, you only worry about you.  You realize that you can't control the world and single-handedly abolish hate, sadness, or upset of any kind.  Awesome.  But if you are like me, and you carry the hurt of many, the fears and frustrations of all of your loved ones, their anger, sadness and struggle, then you understand.  I understand.

If this is you, I urge you to let go Let go in baby steps, or all at once.  Let go piece by piece, or person by person, but do it, do it now!  You will be completely changed.  You will breathe deeper.  You will feel as if you can fly again. I don't know why it took a complete strangers internet article for me to allow myself to let go, but I'm glad it did.  I don't give myself permission for many pleasantries, I am an anxious person, I am by nature a fixer, but I am giving myself permission, no, I am demanding myself to do this, to let go.

So simple.  So, so simple, yet utterly fucking brilliant. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

To. Too. Two

Caches Michael,

Today you are two years old.  I can't help but feel as though I blinked and an entire year has past.  How did this happen?  How are you already two?  Whomever coined the phrase, "The days are long, but the years are short." must have lived with a toddler, and you are one hell of a toddler, son.

I suppose I have to accept that my baby isn't so much of a baby anymore, sniff, and so to celebrate we got you some new balls, your current obsession.  No, not those, though you do find stretching them to the point of making your father wince entertaining.  The bouncy kind that are super fun to throw at dogs, roll into the street and leave around for mama to trip over in the dark of night while she paces the hall with you cradled in her arms.  Yeah, still doing that, but we will talk about that later.

As I sit to type this, I am saddened that I did not continue with monthly updates.  Far too much has changed in a year to consolidate into one letter, but I will try.  

Caches, you are a joy, an utter delight, and I find myself completely in awe of you every single day.  So much so that just catching a glimpse of your face in my rear view mirror can bring tears to my eyes.  When I am with you, I feel like I am in the presence of greatness.  You have always had the ability to change the energy of a room simply with your presence, only now it is usually for the better.  Your energy, your light, it's contagious.

You continue to be the worlds smallest and most powerful dictator, accepting nothing short of perfection from your staff.  You have very specific ideas about how things should be done and they had better be done just so.  Even if it means eating your eggs directly out of the frying pan with the spatula as a utensil one day and losing your shit when I offer to do the same the next day.  Didn't I get the memo!?  We only eat eggs from the frying pan on Tuesday, April 3ed at 7:24AM!  Sure, this can be mind numbing, but just like your perfect downy blonde curls, I know it will not last for long.

Caches, you are the kind of kid that people dream about when they imagine what it would be like to have children.  Well, during normal waking hours you are.  At night you are the kind of kid that people have nightmares and take birth control when they think about.  You have an utterly ridiculous, insanely cute laugh that you burst into at random points of the day for no reason at all other than that fact that it is amazing to be you!   You are joyful, passionate, inspiring.

I want to put in writing some of the adorable things you do right now, because baby, some day you won't do them anymore.  You will grow and change, and years will pass, and I'll catch the sent of nearly two year old you, and I will lose my breath as beautiful memories of who you used to be flood my soul.  I know it is only natural to grow up, but I find myself wanting you to stay.  So innocent, so pure, not yet jaded by the harsh realities of life.  Wouldn't it be nice to stay 2 forever...

When you want to nurse you catch my attention and you say, "Nurt?"  "You want to nurse?" I ask. "I need a nurt." you respond.  "Oh you need to?"  And with the biggest smile that could melt even the coldest heart you say,  "I neeeeed to, mama," your eyes squinting and your silly crooked teeth beaming in a smile.  Oh Cache, your nose scrunch and eye squint smile is perfection!  Never stop smiling.

You have the memory of an elephant.  You listen, you listen carefully, and you don't forget.  "No baby, we will open that when daddy gets home."  5 hours later, "Caches, daddy is home!" and you run and grab the box to open.  "Cookies are too hot now, we can eat one when you wake up from your nap."  Your eyes not even half way open and you are grinning, "Cookie?"  We don't get away with much around you, baby. Continue to listen earnestly.

You are fiercely independent, scoffing if I even so much as lay a finger on you while you climb the play structure or try to ride your bike.  You are ever becoming more your own person; but you come back to me.  You come back with your gangly, bruised limbs wrapped so tight around me that I almost feel as if we are one again.  Fly, explore, get hurt, make mistakes, but keep coming back sweet boy, I will be here always.

You like to name your family and keep track of their whereabouts.  Often during the day you will ask where Yily is, and then Abby, followed by the meow, the fish and your da-do.  You like to reassure yourself where loved ones are, like while pushing a truck, you pause, "Da-do, work." and go back to playing.  "Yily, nap. Shhhhh." and on with eating lunch. You are such a thoughtful boy, so gentle and kind.  Stay kind.

You are perpetual motion.  I don't think there are more than a few seconds each day that your entire body is still.  You kick your little legs in the car seat, you kick them in the swing.  You even kick them while I'm holding you if something excites you, like a big truck driving by, or a bird hoping on the grass.  You rub your hands against my chest or back while you sit with me, and as you fall asleep, continuing to twitch your tiny, dimpled fingers until you finally surrender to sleep.  Keep moving, son.

Baby, watching you fall asleep at the end of a long day is one of my favorite things to do.  To watch a healthy, inquisitive, rambunctious boy go from wide awake, to drowsy, to trying desperately to keep his eyes open and finally to still, peaceful sleep is nothing short of a miracle.  An every day miracle that I am fortunate to be a part of.  Watching you sleep feels like a dream.  It did when you were only hours old and it still does today.  When you are old like mama, and find yourself troubled with the world, look for peace in the face of a sleeping child, I find it in you.

These past two years have been the most intense, exhausting, challenging years of my life.  They have also been the most awe inspiring, exquisitely imperfect, and magical.  I get to see the world through your eyes, and baby, it feel as if I have been born again.  Everything, even the formally mundane tasks now have to ability to be fascinating.  Doing dishes sparks imagination about fish and boats.  Watering the lawn can turn into an impromptu water fight, and vacuuming can turn into a gleeful game of cat and mouse. 

I am grown, I am no stranger to heartache, grief, and the unfair cruelty of this world; I find solace in you, baby.  In you I see a world of hope, peace, and brilliance.  When I get caught up in the uglier parts of life, I find the beauty of this world again in your embrace.

Only two years in, and already I feel like I have learned a lifetime of lessons.  I promise I'll continue to listen, I'll continue to learn; we are in this together sweet boy.